Today, it is my turn on the blog tour for Clare Fisher’s strong debut novel – see the banner at the bottom for all the other ports of call.
Fisher’s debut is an interesting take on a story we’ve all heard before in which a vulnerable young woman, who has been bounced from foster home to foster home growing up, gets pregnant and finally discovers what happened to her own mother. But it’s so much more than that! The novel begins with a touching paragraph, a love letter to a baby…
Of all the good things that have ever been in me, the first and best is you. Every single part of you, from your stroke-able earlobes to the hope curled up in your toes. Remember that. Remember it when the dickheads say you’re a bad or a so-what thing. Remember it when you’re convinced the good things are jammed behind other people’s smiles. Remember it the hardest when you feel like no thing at all.
Bethany, Beth, is twenty one. We quickly realise that she’s in prison having done ‘a very bad thing’. We’re not told what that thing is. As the novel starts, Beth is talking to Erika, a prison counsellor, who is encouraging her to write down the good things from her life. The following chapters mostly tell her story chronologically as Beth lists her good things, talks about them with Erika and carries on life inside. No 3 on her list is When two people love each other enough to share silence; this refers to Paul, her Foster Dad No 1.
The first person to breathe the same silence as me was Paul. Paul was Foster Dad No.1. He was Foster Dad No.1 in that he was the first one I had, but also the best one. He picked me up from school every single day. ‘You won’t forget?’ I’d ask him. He’d laugh and tell me he’d made a promise and he was going to keep it. Sure enough he was always at the school gates when the bell rang, a smile spreading out from under his grey mop of hair. (p16)
But most good things don’t last. A visit with Beth’s mum was arranged – and she didn’t turn up. Paul’s wife Susie finds Beth too difficult to cope with too, forcing a move for Beth to foster family No.2. where Beth makes a good friend from her new class at school. Then Beth’s foster mum dies suddenly and it’s all change again. The next we hear, Beth has left school without her GCSEs and is about to get her first home of her own. Marcia, her social worker helps her choose things for her little flat. Everything seems to be going OK and Beth gets a job at the cinema where she soon babysits for Chantelle, the manager.
This settled period can’t last for ever though – things will change – they always do. Beth flirts with a lone male customer one evening and ere long they are having an affair. Phil is quite a bit older than Beth, and she takes to calling him ‘Your Dad’ in the text. He’s married with a kid, but works away from home for part of each week.
You know it’ll end up badly.
You know that this is when Beth will get pregnant and have a baby.
You know too, that somehow, for some bad thing, she’ll end up in prison.
Fisher’s portrait of a vulnerable girl, who falls through the cracks and is let down one way or another by everyone, is well told. Beth may have done a bad thing, but she has our sympathy from the beginning and that only increases as her story plays out, especially as she discovers her own mother’s plight through reading her files. Fisher’s novel is full of acute observation about a young girl and the kinds of situation that could lead to a life in care. It’s a story that is bigger than Beth’s alone, although she occupies the driving seat. Fisher makes sure that the events in supporting characters’ lives which will affect Beth’s, for better or worse, for luck or poor judgement are detailed to build up the bigger picture, which makes for a more involving story.
The surprising thing for me was to discover that prison suits young Beth. She is lucky though, to fit in with a group of women there who are all slight misfits and ignored by the others who would make trouble. Beth also has Erika and her studying – aiming to get those GCSEs she didn’t take. Prison, and her inmate friends there, become like a new foster family.
Yes, we do find out what the bad thing she did was. By the time it is revealed, it’s not really a surprise, yet it’s still shocking as Beth’s story has naturally built up to this climax. But, as the blurb says. does Beth ‘deserve a chance to be good?’ Will she get some sort of a happy ending? I can’t tell you, but All the Good Things is a confident debut which I enjoyed reading very much. (8.5/10)
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Clare Fisher, All the Good Things (Penguin Viking, 1.6.17) Hardback, 240 pages.